Saturday, January 27, 2007

Soulsville U.S.A.

Let me say this to you: Every school age child in Memphis should be taken on a field trip to the Stax Museum of American Soul Music. I went for the first time this morning, with C, to see the Milt Hinton photography exhibit that I wrote about last November. This was the last weekend it will be showing, so, of course, it was now or never. I was really just there to see the photographs, but the whole tour begins with a 20-minute video on the history of Stax that takes you through the birth of the “Memphis sound” and, briefly, race relations and really puts our city’s modern history into perspective. It is a wonderfully produced piece that makes the whole trip worthwhile.

We somewhat hurried through much of the museum to get to the Hinton photos, which were at the end of the tour, but C did enjoy Albert King’s purple guitar, Ike Turner’s Fender, seeing what must have seemed like a prehistoric reel-to-reel recorder, and Isaac Hayes’s stack boots and custom Cadillac. The photos were just as promised, candid shots of some of the best jazz artists of the time, of any time. Hinton was not only a chronicler of the iconic jazz figures he worked with and befriended but also, during tours of the South, the Jim Crow signs seen everywhere. He and his colleagues found them fascinating and funny, in an absurd way, I suppose, since they were mostly northerners and hadn’t come into contact with this silly way of life. C asked me about a part in the film where Steve Cropper spoke emotionally about Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination and how it changed, not just the city and country, but Stax itself. He asked if Dr. King was in one of the bands. So, the Stax Museum, at College and McLemore became the place for me to explain to C how things used to be, how if we were living back in the 1950s and 60s, that his two best friends, J and T, wouldn’t be his two best friends. They wouldn’t go to school together and they probably wouldn’t have come over to spend the night as they did last weekend. He said he understood, though it must be a difficult concept for someone only nine-years-old in 2007 to grasp, as it should be. By looking at black-and-white photos of Dizzy Gillespie, Gene Krupa, Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway and that heart-breaking image of Billie Holliday, hopefully, C learned more than just who it is playing those tunes in Daddy’s stereo, but also what an insane world we live in, though there are people out there who work to make it better. Music, today, became the catalyst for understanding human nature, and that was a totally unexpected turn of events for the morning.

C’s comprehension of facts and situations is becoming finely tuned. He is eager to learn and asks a lot of questions. This was made apparent on the drive home when he said to me, “How long ago did Louis Armstrong walk on the Moon?” And, instead of snickering at him, I explained that Louis Armstrong didn’t walk on the Moon, but in 1969 he won the Tour de France seven times.